Islamic State 'Sim card man' jailed

Dominic Casciani
Home affairs correspondent
@BBCDomCon Twitter

image copyrightGMP
image captionRabar Mala: IT support for Islamic State group

A man who helped hundreds of jihadist fighters to communicate by activating mobile phone Sim cards for them in the UK has been jailed for eight years.

Rabar Mala, who lived in Warrington, became what amounted to an IT support worker for the Islamic State group.

He helped hundreds of militants in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey get online by exploiting how social media accounts are registered to phone numbers.

Court documents revealed that Mala was living illegally in the UK.

It's not clear whether the Home Office had tried to remove him.

Mala - originally from Iraq - admitted two counts of possession of property for a terrorist purpose.

Manchester Crown Court heard he also had unfulfilled aspirations to attack the Royal Cheshire County Show.

Sentencing Mala, Judge Patrick Field QC, said: "Your support of this cause engaged you in playing a significant role in the dissemination of IS propaganda and facilitating communications between the followers of IS."

image copyrightGMP
image captionSim cards: Hundreds activated

When detectives searched Mala's home they found hundreds of Sim cards and 29 social media accounts on a number of handsets.

These contained a vast number of chat groups and more than 700,000 messages, many of which were between IS militants.

As they delved deeper into these records, they established that over 18 months, Mala had registered and activated 360 Sim cards - and he used these in turn to help fighters who had no easy means of registering social media accounts without drawing attention to themselves.

  • Every time Mala bought and activated a Sim card in one of his mobile phones, he forwarded the number to his contacts abroad
  • In turn they could use that number to start creating a new social media account
  • These services, such as Twitter, send a verification code to the phone number to make sure it definitely belongs to the user
  • But Mala exploited this security check by forwarding the verification codes he received back in the UK
  • The fighter was then able to trick the system into believing they owned the phone number - and that completed the creation of the account.

Mala kept the Sim cards, more than 100 of which had names written on them in Arabic and Kurdish, so that militants could create further accounts as required.

He was caught only because police linked him to extremist material posted on YouTube.

There's no evidence that Mala made any money from offering the service, leading police to conclude he did it because he believed in the cause.

Some of his messages indicated his commitment to the IS group. In one, he urged associates to consider joining him to attack the Royal Cheshire County Show.

"I am in a place... itchy for operation. About half a million people will attend the show," he wrote. "I have about seven tickets - it only needs people and weapon."

The 33-year-old arrived in the UK in 2008. At the time of his arrest last August he had been refused leave to remain. He was working illegally under an assumed name as a car valet.

It's not clear why he was still in the UK and whether the Home Office, which has been approached for comment, made any attempt to locate and remove him.

"By day Mala appeared to be a hardworking well-liked man but when he got home he'd dedicate his time to helping promote truly evil causes," said Detective Superintendent Will Chatterton of Counter Terrorism Policing North West.

"This was an incredibly complex investigation due to the sheer amount of data the team had to analyse."

More on this story